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Virginia Localities Pay the Price for Elections Every Year

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Running an election every year costs more money, that’s the bottom line, but it’s tough to pin down exactly how much more.  

Most costs are ongoing, and just a baseline regardless of how often you hold an election. For instance the cost of voting equipment, staffing the Department of Elections, keeping voter registration lists up to date. 

The largest cost burden of running extra elections are day-of things, and in Virginia most of those expenses are borne by localities.  

Lisa Jeffers is the General Registrar in Waynesboro, a small city of about 20,000 in the Shenandoah Valley. Between paying poll workers and printing ballots, running an election day costs her city around $15,000. 

Most years, she runs two elections -- one for local offices in May and another for state and federal offices every November. The city has never had issues coming up with the money.

“It is expensive but I would not like to see it go away,” Jeffers said, adding she appreciates the regular interaction with voters.

An official with the Virginia Department of Elections says the primary cost at the state level is staff time. Staff are almost always running the current election or preparing for the next imminent election. 

That means making changes in how an election is run, upgrading equipment, or adjusting to changes in state code all have to happen in a very tight time frame. 

“There’s no down time,” said Deputy Commissioner Jessica Bowman. “That’s what our cost is.” 

The positive trade-offs include routine training for poll workers, plus the regular exercise in democracy for voters. 

Edgardo Cortes, former commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Elections, says for him the biggest benefit is the chance to “assist people in making voting a habit, a very good habit.”

“Yes there are costs associated with putting on elections, but I think to have a healthy democracy and to have people be able to participate and vote, those costs are kind of a core function of government,” said Cortes. 

 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.